Maximum flexibility, mobility and employee empowerment are the future of working at Kayak and OpenTable, says CEO Steve Hafner


My interview with Steve Hafner, CEO of Kayak and OpenTable, began with smiles and jokes. If our conversation had taken place about a year ago, the mood would have been very different. The share price of Booking Holdings, the parent company of Kayak and OpenTable, last October at this time was about half of what it is trading today.

Hafner was put in the difficult position of leading two large global companies that operated in the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic – restaurants and travel. Both areas were affected as people took shelter in their homes and avoided dining out and taking business and vacation trips. Millions of Americans who worked in hotels, airlines, restaurants, bars, cruise ships, theaters, sporting events and concerts have been laid off or put on leave. For months, they desperately searched in vain for new jobs.

Hafner is no stranger to adversity. Six months after the launch of the Orbitz travel company, September 11 took place, “which was a big disruption.” A few years later, air travel to Europe was cut short after an Icelandic volcano erupted.

Today’s businesses face a whole new set of challenges. There is a war for talent to find qualified candidates to fill the more than 10 million vacancies in the United States. In addition, we are witnessing a revolutionary trend called the “big resignation”, in which workers assert themselves and demand that companies treat them fairly, with respect, dignity and reward them with a fair wage. If they’re not valued, data from the U.S. Department of Labor suggests people aren’t afraid to just quit, even without a new job in sight. It’s a bold move, born out of the frustration and anger of being exploited by bad bosses and greedy executives. These people take time to think about what they can do next, enter the odd-job economy to gain some independence, move on to a new kind of career, or acquire skills and training to reinvent themselves.

Fast forward to the radically transformed new job market, Hafner, instead of worrying about having to fire people, now finds himself looking for creative ways to attract, hire and retain staff. The weapons in his arsenal for winning the war for talent are brilliant and deceptively simple. Basically, it offers flexibility, mobility, empathy, and confidence.

These ideas would have raised eyebrows two years ago. In a new era in which we are all rethinking the way we work and live, many old-fashioned management practices seem outdated, impractical, and in fact harmful to the mental health and well-being of employees. It’s hard to believe that it took a global pandemic for business leaders to realize that they need and need to treat workers like adults, empower them and allow them to thrive with empowerment. autonomy.

Instead of being ordered to return to one of the company’s more than 20 offices around the world, Hafner leaves it up to his team to decide where and how they want to work. Many leading companies are implementing hybrid models, in which employees will walk into the office two or three specifically dedicated days a week and work from home the rest of the week.

Employees pointed out a glaring flaw in the hybrid working style. While they appreciate the balance between being at home and in the office, the policy, while an improvement, is unintentionally restrictive.

For example, a person may have a pre-engagement on one of the days they are supposed to be in the office and feel uncomfortable not being able to make it to the office on the required day, and think that this can be used against. during an annual performance review. People are unique and have individualized needs. A single working mother may need to drop off and pick up her child from elementary school and would end up arriving late for work and leaving early.

To address this valid concern, Hafner advocates a flexible style, giving employees control. They can decide if they want to go to the office, how many days and which days are best for them. A person could choose to go to the office five days a week or none. It could be two weeks away from home and one week in an office. They may be interested in an office in another city or another country in the United States outside of the States.

Hafner drew on what has the most impact for his staff, saying, “Our team wanted more flexibility and mobility, so we listened. He added, “I remain an advocate for in-person collaboration and we will continue to embrace it at Kayak and OpenTable. Our employees demonstrate that great talent can do anything, from anywhere, and have an incredible impact.

It also strives to create a ‘fun, modern and progressive’ atmosphere and vibe, as exemplified by making its offices around the world dog friendly. Kayak and OpenTable offer catered lunches, gyms, workout spaces and more.

An employee survey showed the need to help people manage their mental health and well-being. Six free therapy sessions per year are offered to eligible employees and their families. Through a third party, Spring Health, workers receive a complete mental health and wellness solution. This could be achieved through mindfulness and meditation training, coaching, therapy and offerings.

Here are some of the other employee friendly features:

Global Volunteer Week

As part of Kayak and OpenTable’s “Do Good” initiative, teammates from over 20 offices were given five hours of free time to give back to their community. Last year, the company donated more than 540 volunteer hours. The company plans to organize a “Do Good Week” in November 2021.

No meeting on Friday, Free subscription to free space and Wellness Lecture Series

These initiatives were designed to support the mental health and well-being of employees by offering resources and help on how to effectively manage your time, prioritization, parenting during a pandemic, and more.

Reproductive Benefits and Policies

ART (Advanced Reproductive Technologies) and IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) are covered by insurance plans offered to Kayak and OpenTable employees. Paid leave due to miscarriage is covered by the bereavement policy. Kayak and OpenTable offer birth parents 16-18 weeks of parental leave at 100% of base salary. Non-biological parents are offered 10 weeks parental leave at 100% of base salary.

Employee resource groups

Their five Employee Resource Groups are volunteer-led groups for women, people of color, military personnel and veterans, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ + community. They are designed to help each other as allies.

To give employees a well-deserved break in the first year of the pandemic, Kayak and OpenTable closed their offices around the world from December 27 to 31, 2020. During that time, Slack usage declined by 90% and 86% emails, indicating employees across both brands were able to enjoy their free time and rejuvenate themselves. Due to the overwhelming positive response and increased engagement, companies have extended the benefit two more times for the weeks of June 28 to July 2 and December 27 to December 31 of this year.

Policies are wise methods of attracting the best talent to join Hafner companies. It’s also a smart way to retain workers by involving them in the decision-making process and showing them that they are valued and respected. This should not be interpreted as being cynical. Providing autonomy, flexibility, mobility and confidence goes a long way. People will appreciate being seen and heard. They will be happier, work harder, smarter, and be more productive. This will increase revenue and profits and foster a culture of positive collaboration.

The cost to businesses that do not apply these types of programs is high. It’s expensive to lose talent. They need to be replaced. It takes time and money. Recruiters are retained, job postings are posted, and hiring managers and human resources professionals spend endless hours reviewing resumes and conducting interviews.

Since we are still in a pandemic, job seekers are demanding a premium for relocating, saying they should be further compensated for the perceived risk as there is still a lot of uncertainty. The replacement hire would likely cost more money than the employee who leaves for a rival, bringing in their knowledge and skills.

As more and more companies emulate Kayak and OpenTable and add their own worker-friendly programs, the lives of workers will be dramatically improved. They will thrive, as they will no longer have to endure brutal daily commuting to a cold office building, sitting in front of a computer for more than eight hours a day.

The daily grind before the pandemic has exhausted us. We came home tired and irritable. There’s just enough time for dinner, crashing on the couch, watching Netflix and then sleeping to get ready to run on the hamster wheel the next day. This existence has been costly. This has helped lead people to adopt bad habits, such as leading a sedentary lifestyle, overeating, and indulging in alcohol and drug use to cope with their harsh daily routine.

In this new future of work, people will feel empowered, motivated and valued. This uplifting mood will reverberate through their family, friends and community. The ripple effect could help alleviate some of the tension and angst we see all around us.

If you’re interested in Kayak or OpenTable, check out their respective employment sections:

KAYAKKAYAK – Careers Gateway

Open tableCareers | Open table

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